Bob Bidwell, head starter at Wakefield
On a sunny Tuesday at the TPC Wakefield Plantation golf course, Bob Bidwell sat behind the wheel of a golf cart and welcomed players to the first tee as he gnawed on the end of a cigar.
“Straight ahead, guys,” Bidwell told a group who zoomed past in a cart.
Bidwell, 88, is a fixture at Wakefield Plantation, a private country club in North Raleigh. He has worked as the head starter and announcer at the golf course since it opened in 2000, keeping golfers on schedule by maintaining start times.
This week, Bidwell will announce his 60th tournament during the Rex Hospital Open at Wakefield. His distinctive voice will introduce players as they tee off and approach the 18th green.
Spectators can easily spot Bidwell: He wears knickers, a throwback to the old-school golf scene, when he announces the tournament.
Bidwell said he received a pair of the baggy-kneed pants many years ago, and he liked them so much he got more.
Payne Stewart, who died in 1999, was the most recent PGA golfer who regularly wore the pants. Bidwell said he buys knickers from the same California company where Stewart got his.
But Bidwell focuses on more than fashion.
Last fall, Web.com Tour named him volunteer of the year, choosing him from more than 15,000 people who help with tournaments across the country. The Rex Hospital Open is part of the Web.com Tour, the developmental tour for the PGA.
Bidwell gave away the $5,000 he received for the award, splitting the money between the Rex Healthcare Foundation and the alumni association of his alma mater, Slippery Rock University.
‘My second home’
Bidwell’s mother died when he was 7, and he was raised by his grandparents on a farm in Pennsylvania.
After he graduated from high school in 1945, he enlisted in the Army, serving in the 82nd Airborne Division at the end of World War II, during the occupation of Germany.
After his military service ended, he played tennis for Slippery Rock, about 50 miles north of Pittsburgh.
He went on to become a teacher in Pennsylvania and then Florida, coaching tennis and football for nearly two decades. He said he led the Fort Lauderdale High School football team to a state championship in 1969.
He changed careers a year later, selling science equipment.
When he retired in 1999, Bidwell moved to the Triangle, settling in the Wakefield area, to be closer to his daughter and three grandchildren.
Now he spends about six days a week at Wakefield Plantation, working part time and playing rounds of golf on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“This is my second home here, and the reaction from first of all the members and the players is always positive, and it makes you feel good,” Bidwell said.
Members of the country club recently installed a plaque on a rock near the first tee. It reads, “In honor of Robert (Bob) C. Bidwell. Head starter at Wakefield Plantation since June 27, 2000. Veteran, teacher, coach, father, grandfather, mentor and friend.”
Bidwell is a great ambassador for the golf course, said Michael Thomas, director of membership sales at Wakefield. He has a way of making members, guests and neighbors feel welcome.
“He makes this place a much better place,” Thomas said.
Bidwell started playing golf when he was 30, after his uncle introduced him to the game.
He said he has played in 22 states and six countries. These days, he averages a handicap of 18 strokes.
In 1993, Bidwell started announcing several tournaments each year in Florida, but now he only announces Wakefield tournaments.
He wants to keep working as long as he can. He also hopes to do more announcing.
“If I have another one in me, that will be great,” Bidwell said.
Regardless, Bidwell will surely continue to serve golfers at Wakefield.
On a recent afternoon, Allen Downs stopped his golf court near the first tee and thanked Bidwell for complimenting his wife’s smile.
“She said, ‘Now that’s a nice man,’ ” Downs said. “She doesn’t say that about me.”
Bidwell, a bachelor, is known for honking his golf cart’s horn at women as they walk past.
“When I stop paying attention to the ladies, put a lily on me because I’m done,” he said.
Chris Cioffi: 919-829-4802, @ReporterCioffi